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Lame Fresher Diaries: 10 things to do now first year is over

Alas, this is my final post exploring my life as a particularly boring student. As always, the year’s gone by faster than we could have imagined, but what a year it’s been! The year of Ocean Fridays, of the £5.10 mealcard, of glandular fever, of the £1 bus fare, of short term book loans, of never using the tram. This year I have established an open relationship with Hallward Library, paraded around campus with blue hair then shrivelled with despair as each new day brought a more minging shade of green, looked on in horror as six hours of work per day in the first term dwindled to six minutes in the third, and managed to attend classical concerts more times than I have attended Rock City. Needless to say, we’ve definitely all earned a break before shit gets absolutely real next year, so here are ten things to do to unwind and prepare for second year.

1) Go to a festival. This is a definitive essential for every student summer. Fake flower headbands and tie dye tees you’ll never wear again are strictly non optional

2) Start writing your novel. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone has a story in there somewhere. Plus, this’ll definitely keep you occupied when the annual British monsoon puts all outdoor activities on hold for about a month.

3) Learn 5 basic recipes. This will guarantee you and your housemates gourmet cuisine until you all give up on cooking after about a week.

4) Take up a musical instrument with plans to start a douchey band on returning to uni. Nail about six chords on guitar and you can literally play any song in the known universe. Especially Wonderwall. 

5) Interrail. It’s always more expensive than you think it’s going to be but at least you can say you’ve been to a lot of countries.

6) Send a mass email to every family member/family friend who is likely to ask you how you found first year – it’ll save you a lot of time at family barbecues.

7) Get to know Aldi; unspecified German delicacies may be all we can afford next year.

8) Read a really really long book – I’m going for Clarissa. At 1,534 pages, it’s a great excuse to lay in the sun all day while you take on one of the heftiest classics.

9) Invest in some suncream because sometimes the sun comes out in Britain and when it does you should enjoy it responsibly

10) Work out what your ‘summer jam’ is going to be – useful for da club and car journeys.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading this year and have a great summer!

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Personal, Rants

Why do we need a women’s network?

When I told my friend I wanted to run for Women’s Network officer, he, naturally, had a few questions for me. Your standard why do you want to run? and what will your policies be? came up, which lead to our conversation segueing into questioning the Women’s Network itself.

Why do we even need a Women’s Network?” he asked me, “and why isn’t there a men’s one? Surely there should just be a Gender Equality Society or something?”

After arguing that, here at our university, we do indeed have a group concerned with gender equality in the form of UoN Feminists, I was left to reflect on his comments which clearly illuminate the exclusivity of the Women’s Network. It can’t be denied that certain events, initiatives and socials are solely for those who define themselves as women, which could be seen as potentially ostracising towards men, as well as hypocritical of women themselves. Weren’t some of us up in arms when men-only golf clubs such as Muirfield in Scotland found themselves in the headlines last summer?

The recent ‘Women in Leadership’ week, an inspiring and thought-provoking series of lectures organised by the Women’ Network for, surprise surprise, women, also came up in discussion. My friend was uneasy about the distinction. He said it was insulting to suggest women were less proficient than men in terms of the skills needed to lead, and the fact that they needed help was no less than patronising. But with just over one in five women in parliament1 and with only one female candidate running for president of our student’s union this year, there is definitely an issue here to be identified and reconciled. It’s clear that for a number of reasons, women have a tougher time getting to the top. So, if holding workshops for women in leadership is an active step to decreasing unequal candidate gender distribution, then I’m afraid I fail to see the negative.

I also think the value of the women’s-only space which the Network is able to offer is overlooked. We live in a society bombarded by lad culture, slut shaming, unrealistic expatiations of beauty amongst other discriminations such as the potent and prominent sexual objectification of women (just turn to page three – yes, it’s still a thing, we’re going to keep bringing it up until it’s gone). Our society offers self defining women little retreat from principles which harm, undermine and shatter body image, confidence and common humanity. I think it is therefore understandable that self defining women have a need to meet, socialise and express themselves in a space which exists outside these prevalent aspects of society. Here, the compulsion to impress visually, as well as the risk of being judged or discriminated against as a result of being blessed with a vagina, do not exist.

However, it is true that women themselves can be guilty of perpetuating lad culture, from women slut shaming women to demonising another woman because, horror of horrors, she has worn “too much” make up. In this way, a women’s-only space is important in addressing and eradicating the prejudices and destructive attitudes which self-defining women can find themselves heaping on each other, transforming the women’s-only space into a nurturing and liberal environment. How can we hope to address lad culture in the wider community if we find ourselves adhering, inadvertently or otherwise, to its principles?

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Although I have a lot of love for the women’s-only space and all the comfort and confidence it has brought me, I feel that it has made the Women’s Network quite an insular organisation. It’s great that we’re recognising lad culture exists, it’s great that we’ve abolished it in our small circle of self-defining women, it’s AWESOME that we have a @NottsSexism project, but we currently have no palpable dialogue concerning lad culture with the rest of the student body. I am calling for the establishment of relationships with other societies to try and engage the entirety of UoN in conversation about it. What about the harmful effect Lad Culture produces on people with disabilities, people who identify as racial minorities, LGBT, many of these at once, and even men themselves? I want to follow the example set by Durham University, where a college’s rugby society was overheard by members of the uni’s FemSoc playing a game called “It’s not rape if…”. I’m sure the boys thought of some jolly warped responses, yet the only real answer to that question is “when it’s between consent-giving indviduals”, isn’t it, really. After controversy was sparked and apologies written, the story has a very positive and inspiring ending: the head of St Cuthbert’s rugby soc actually expressed a wish to “initiate a relationship” between the fems and the ruggers, “not only”, commented the rugby soc’s president to the DUFemSoc, “to demonstrate our belief in the importance of the work you do but to help you do it, too.”2   

A pretty brief discussion of some of the reasons why I think we need a women’s network. I could go on, but I might still be sat here at my laptop next week, or perhaps next month, or someone might tap me on the shoulder and whisper to me that my degree is actually over now and I’ve been sat in the library for two and a half years and would I like a cup of tea and a calm down? I do feel like I’ve let my friend down a little since I couldn’t answer his question about UoN’s lack of a man’s network. But now that I’ve thought about it, I think there is no man’s network simply because men haven’t set one up. I can only assume that self-defining men at UoN feel as if they do not need one.

You can follow my and Emma’s campaign at @emmabeth2014, or like us on Facebook. Or both.

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Personal, Rants

All Made Up: Why we shouldn’t apologise for a love affair with cosmetics

Leaving home/not having to live my life under the strict, identity-crushing jurisdiction of a rural Lincolnshire grammar school has left a whole new appearance-enhancing door ajar for me. Waking up in the morning with a pre-lecture regime entirely at my own disposal has given me leave to step gingerly through this shining portal of cosmetic discovery and go fucking nuts with black eyeliner. An undertaking which has probably given me the need to have a quick sit down to readjust/palpitate more than anyone else.

I feel, personally, as if I had the notion of wearing make-up beaten out of me before I reached an age to really fall in love with wearing it. One of the principle institutions I’ve held accountable for my early-teen perception of make-up as a shitty, shitty thing is (surprise surprise) my secondary school. Although quite a few of us got away with the odd little squiggle of token eyeliner, there was pretty much a zero tolerance policy on all students wearing make-up, which lead to a fair number of grumbling, blazered adolescents being hauled from assembly and marched to the toilets to remove the products accumulated on their visages. The question of make up at school is a difficult one; of course I can see that one’s appearance should not take precedence over one’s principle purpose for plonking oneself down at a desk at nine of a morning – that is, to learn. However, much like the recent dispute over the banning of pole dancing societies at uni, placing restrictions, or totally banning, the casual use of cosmetics is synonymous with a decision being made for a person with the intention of protecting them/the image of the educational institution. However, the bans are also responsible for the increasing preconceived negativity towards the forbidden thing and unjustly demonising or undermining those who take innocent pleasure in it.

For me, it’s all about the fear surrounding the choice to emphasise of physical features an attributes of an individual within the everyday. If a woman, or man, elects to enhance his or her features with a dab of foundation, a common assumption made by the outsider looking in is that the person has done so to sexualise or objectify themselves – image becomes paramount, and attracting a partner a priority. I think the notion that a person may use make up as an extension, a suggestion or a celebration of their sexuality (although, quite often, this isn’t the only or principle case) is unsettling to a society which frequently subscribes to a conservative outlook with a tendency to chastise those who wish to appear desirable, particularly (as ever) in women. Perhaps, like the way removing pole dancing magically removed all sexist attitudes towards women, removing make-up will remove trivialisation, the risk of being targeted sexually as a desirable human being and eradicate potential deviations from study. Outrageously, as we all know, magazines, newspapers, even ourselves in our everyday lives, are just quick to slate someone for lacking make up; those who dare to age, to have blemished skin, to lose sleep also face the wrath of their peers and the media for failing adhere to unreachable standards of beauty. We’re meant to look flawless, yet to use make up to achieve the look we want in order to feel confident is a cheat and a fail.

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I also think the vocabulary we use when referring to make up is pretty damaging and reinforces negative attitudes. I’ve witnessed people frequently judge women by how much “slap” they have on their face, an informal term which carries with it connotations of pain, malice and punishment. In opposition to the “natural” look which I’ve found is praised and basically universally strived for, bronzing your cheeks or choosing a vibrant red lipstick is “fake”, less than human, undermines your identity. There’s even a brand of make up called “Fake Bake”, a name which I’m not quite sure I get; is it satire or inspiring a tut-tutting as people walk past the cosmetics in Debenhams, in a sense condoning the derogatory labels awarded to it? Regarding attitudes to men and make up I don’t have much experience at all; it’d be interesting to learn about the experiences of men who wear it and whether they face similar discriminations to women.

It pains me to think that a younger version of myself subscribed to the belief that the use of make up equated the projection of a “fake” image, and that those who took pride in their appearance lacked substance, even brains. Now, make up gives me confidence, a way to express myself (I wear B I G eyeliner flicks if I’m feeling particularly determined, for instance). When I’m down, it lifts me up; if I feel someone’s gaze drawn briefly to a splash of bright eyeshadow it feels bloomin’ cool – I’m all like “yeah, I do exist, I am worth noticing, my face has colours on it and it looks suave and YOU SAW THAT.” It’s also my most frequent form of procrastination – when my brain is being slowly fried by constant reading and I find all the words on the page are merging into utter gibberish, twenty minutes on my face is refreshing and motivating, particularly when catching sight of myself in the mirror doesn’t reveal a spotty, exasperated face. I see the kind of face I want to, one that’s interesting, fresh, young and intelligent – applying make up is something fantastically easy I can do to make peace with myself, as well as feel really great. It makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it makes millions of people happy, so I don’t really see how you could justify hating on people who use it to feel its uplifting effects and a renewed sense of self worth every day.

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Lame Fresher Diaries: three equally lamish outings

Try not to be too taken aback, but I actually left campus thrice of an evening during this last week. As a result I have felt totally irresponsible and am terribly nervous for the fate of next week’s seminars. Needless to say, my newly invigorated free-ranging spirit has played ABSOLUTE HAVOC with my hectic Hallward schedule (coincidentally, a lame yet disturbing thing happened Tuesday eve: I was comfortably housed in my beloved booth 108 when I heard a mysterious, fleshy slapping sound sourced somewhere behind me; sure enough I spotted the chap in 109’s legs jiffling around something fierce in time to the gentle thwacking. Could have been perfectly innocent, yet I am marginally confident that I may have discovered the phantom fapper of the UL…)

Monday night saw my first moonlit escapade to Rescue Rooms, an adorably teeny tiny venue perfect for an intimate gig with acoustic sets. This is precisely what Jake “Music Man” Parnian and I were hoping for in going along to see folk band Stornoway… from Cowley, Oxford. After listening to their album on repeat for about three days in a desperate lyric learning frenzy, we mumbled along to songs about the sea, gulls, boats and beaches which were all very pleasing to the ear. Highlight was definitely an acoustic set of some of their new stuff – those harmonies were poetic and downright gorgeous.

To the keen indie music fan with a taste for reasonably priced alcoholic beverages, perhaps not the lamest of nights. Then BAM, a strict chuck out time of 10pm. Hence, an early Maccers and the 36 home for Jake and me it was.

For Wednesday’s top night in Notts I had Steve, the gargantuan-6’1”-red-Audi-driving-top chap up from Lincolnshire for a night of bants with tickets reserved weeks in advance in anticipation of what promised to be a memorable night in a cracking venue. Stevo, being a courteous gent, treated me to dinner before the two of us (having cunningly collected our tickets before the perilous queueing for this wildly popular night out ensued) ambled over to The Royal Concert Hall for two and a half hours of The Hallé orchestra playing wonderful works of Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss. (NB, Steve is my father.) Another deliciously early curfew for me, meaning being deposited back outside Lenton and Wortley before eleven with the extra bits of food and washing that parents decree so necessary to have bought/done for you. Alas, so enamoured was I by the concert that I reviewed it before retiring, meaning my bedtime was post midnight. Horror of horrors.

Thursday night is best retold in brief. This time, I thought it wise to partake of something a little more contemporary/with people of my actual generation and go to Market Bar for a soiree with the gals. It was all going jolly well until I found double G&Ts to be a true steal at £4.00 and after spending in the region of £30 at the bar I reached the point at which it was necessary to drag myself to the ladies’, watch the room spin for a while before sliding elegantly to the floor to deposit my money’s worth in the loo. What a waste of thirty quid. And how out of character.

It’s good to remember that the first year of Uni, while requiring diligence and enthusiasm in equal measure, also entitles us to a social life, time to find our feet in the city, adjust to being an autonomous human and (in my case in particular) to get the hang of going places, having sufficient amounts of “good times”, and coming home in one piece. So it’s deffo 100% fine to sack off every once in a while to go to a classical concert, to bop along to a visiting band or even for a tactical chunder in Market Bar; it’s all a healthy part of the valuable student experience.

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Lame Fresher Diaries: Blue Hair

To my mind, a quintessential part of being a fresher is to have a bit of a fiddle around with your identity. It’s a bit like being high on independence – an entire age group countrywide totally belly-flopping into the alien world of making their own pasta daily and operating the iron solo – they literally have not a single domestic higher authority to tell them when to change their socks and it’s enough to make anyone lose a proportion of their shit.

Severing childhood ties with home and parents and asserting yourself as grown up in the world of adults seems to inspire a wish not for total reinvention as such, but for something which illustrates a change in life situation, be it a risky/loud/outrageous item of clothing, an idiosyncratic body piercing or putting a silly colour in your hair that your secondary school wouldn’t allow you to have. For my own personal dynamic transgression, I opted for the latter.

Lame as I am, it will come as no surprise that having blue put in my hair was a highly exhilarating yet deeply frightening experience; after getting all gowned up in the salon and making it VERY CLEAR that I wanted the extent of visible blue to be AS SUBTLE AS POSSIBLE, all that was flashing before me were the cons of the experience. The potential for an horrific reaction to the chemical being lacquered onto my barnet. The various judgements of my peers. The possibility of hindered employment prospects. Looking like a twat. So, sweeping the “women’s interest” magazines boldly aside and fishing out my copy of The Tempest, all I could do was was wait for the dye to seep into my bleached hair.

Reader, I strode out of the salon a new woman. Aside from lamenting the fact I hadn’t worn my Docs to add to the edge, I felt confident in the blueness of my hair – catching sight of it in shop windows on my way to Wilkinson’s to pick up some shampoo for coloured hair WHICH I CAN NOW DO FOR REAL BECAUSE I NEED IT was seriously elating, and I even noticed a couple of fellow pedestrians’ gaze being caught by the shock of blueish strands amongst my everyday brunette. Or they could have been staring at my remarkable, freshly dyed blue ears.

A few weeks later and yes, it *has* gone a bit shitty and green. But do I regret it? Do I hell. It’s encouraged a social interaction (ie “Your hair is blue, it wasn’t blue before”), livened up my otherwise fairly Micky Flanagan hairstyle and, since a vast proportion of my wardrobe is blue, co-ordinated with quite a few outfits along the way. All in all, having blue hair has been rather enriching. And also very much enhanced the hue of several of my paler items of clothing… #semipermenantproblems

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‘Mother is a figure of speech…’

The title of this post is from Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve – the full quotation runs:
“Mother is a figure of speech and has returned to a cave beyond consciousness”
Today is my mother’s birthday. Perhaps, then, it is little coincidence that this particular quotation has presented itself to my mind when its relationship to me is considered on a very introspective, familiar and local scale. I’m thinking in simple terms here: I’m spending weeks at a time away from home in longer bursts than ever before, and during that time the presence my mother occupies is a figurative one; I talk about her, she is anecdotal, she is a character we as a student community can commonly identify with and she is therefore unifying.

I’m aware of the underlying cliché of leaving home and the subsequent plethora of new responsibilities/ exploration of identity/ making sure I have sufficient clean knickers, but clichés exist because often there is some truth in them (even a cliché of say, a film, is still a truth within that medium, whether it resembles actual reality or not). Hence, it’s been important to me to put a few leagues between myself and home to grow, make half hearted attempts at transgressing the image my mother has helped to shape to prove I’ve developed (cough blue hair cough) and establishing a routine that she will never be fully involved in.

The quotation suggests a physical, perhaps mental, absence that has worked for some people. I asked myself who Jane Eyre would be, if not an orphan? Her parents, supposedly well off had they lived, might have indulged her, aligning her with her cousins and perhaps making her a worthier candidate of her Aunt’s love. She would surely lose, then, her staggering independence, her formal and emotional education at Lowood and the poetry of her revelations in the attic at Thornfield, with panoramic views stretching before her inspiring her will for “liberty!”

Only, my mother isn’t absent. Thinking about this in the pool today I kind of feel like my mother is a part of my psyche. She occupies the portion of my mind that deals with some aspects of morality, she triggers self preservation at road crossings, or is the filter over my eyes that sometimes encourages me perceive things in light of my life at home. The latter is particularly true of mealtimes; when faced with Lenton’s lumpy excuse for jam roly-poly, a pang of mum-sickness is a given.

Carter wanted to do away with the mother because it was important to abandon outmoded ideologies and tenacious 60s gender politics in particular. It’s important to me that I extend beyond the sphere of my mother’s existence and it is inevitable that some of her values will transcend with me, but equally inevitable that some will be scrapped. I like the thought of her return to “cave beyond consciousness”; it makes me think of the alien time before my birth and to imagine my mother as somebody I don’t know, who doesn’t need me, who can shelve the notion of being a mother just for a week or so before the next phone call or visit… it’s exciting.

Many people fear resembling their mothers. I have no wish to be her clone, but when people identify me as my mother’s daughter, when they see her reflected in me, I cannot help but feel astonishing pride to be so intrinsically associated with a woman so selfless, so loving, generous and wise.

Happy Birthday, Mum.

Barcelona Baybaaaaaay 017

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Personal, Rants, Reviews

Lame Fresher Diaries: Pole Dancing

It’s been a weird month for pole dancing: A week or so ago it emerged that Swansea University banned its Pole Dance Society from running any longer, claiming that it validated a career in sex work; furthermore, I have decided to master the art.

To expand upon the former: in a bid to eradicate sexist attitudes towards it, the University of Swansea’s decision to ban the Pole Dance Society, to me, seems utterly ridiculous. In banning the society, surely, the University have applied a negative connotation to pole dancing which will, now, inevitably filter through and damage people’s perspectives of the art form. Hence, the University could arguably create a sexist attitude which, perhaps, didn’t even exist initially. Furthermore, a more common name for the activity is “pole fitness”; is not the notion of banning something design to improve your core strength and physical well-being by using your body to make weird, wonderful, often muscle-pulling shapes totally ridiculous? It’s like banning gymnastics.

And the latter: as a bit of a feministy, wannabe eccentric with an enthusiastic Fresher Complex, it seemed apt to try it after the Swansea controversy. And at £2.50 for a taster which included a sure fire way to transform my body into a graceful, mysterious piece of empowering artwork (which is so far removed from the amateurish swinging on a greasy pole in a club with your knickers on show), I was well up for it.

So there we were, a merry band of woman adventurers dressed to impress in slobby gym wear and our sights set on throwing some epic pole shapes and bent on oozing some kind of sexy, freedom-fighting, self-owning, strong woman warrior kind of vibe thing – especially since some of my peers had attempted to chastise me for wanting to try it. They deemed it “unclassy”, “slutty” and intrinsically linked to sex work, to which I retorted “It’s pole FITNESS, and my body is UNATTAINABLE and BENDY” and promptly flounced off.

The studio, Twisted Pole, turned out to be very well hidden about four floors up in a sort of apartment block, which, admittedly, did kind of add to the sense that it was a slightly illicit and transgressive undertaking. Upshot: it was bloody exciting!

We arrived at the studio already quite red faced, sweating and heaving from clambering up about 500 or so spiralling stairs in heavy winter boots and found a fairly busy hive of activity in the studio itself. For someone like me – a total stranger to dance, lacking grace and the ability to move in time to music – being in a studio in the initial quarter of an hour was a fairly alien experience, particularly when confronted with a wall of mirrors depicting mercilessly the extent to which my bits of skin were bursting out of my skimpy pole shorts, but after growing accustomed to the unshakable presence of my flab it was a pretty relaxed environment. The instructor and experienced members of the society began to demonstrate some moves and we were all absolutely ASTOUNDED by how strong they all were being able to support themselves and sustain such complex, beautiful and awe inspiring routines, all on something so insubstantial as a rod of metal. On watching them, I found you quite forgot the pole and all the connotations imposed on it by the patriarchy, and just took in the art unfolding before your eyes – not to mention the burning desire to replicate the shapes yourself.

As it turns out, after an hour of launching myself at a rod of metal – and discovering I have no upper body strength and turning my inner thighs bright pink through vain attempts to grip – pole dancing is hard, man. Really hard. In fact, far from the sexy, empowered, you-don’t-own-me-bro image I was going for, I have never felt less sexy. The number of bruises I acquired is phenomenal, as were the aching I felt in various muscles the next morning. However, this did prove that pole dancing is an excellent and social way to tone. Plus, when I finally mastered the ‘fireman’ and the ‘sundial’, the sense of satisfaction and achievement was basically unparalleled.

Rather than being some kind of really serious, controversial, topical activity, it was just a huge laugh for all of us, and ignited a wave of determination within me to work at it until I am an impressive, amazing, watchable pole dancer. Watch this space.

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